Former winner Tully East looks tailor made for Cheltenham Festival target
Irish trained horses took home seven of the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017, something that will obviously be very hard to match this time around. However, the strength of the Irish challenge in the Cheltenham handicaps is at an unprecedented level at the moment. No longer are such races an afterthought for horses not good enough to run in the graded contests, but are definitely an end in themselves. Here are a few that could make a wave or two next week
Any Second Now
Trainer: Ted Walsh
Entries: Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase (Tuesday)
A good novice hurdler last year who looked in need of a trip, he is yet to get off the mark over fences this season but the manner in which he has been campaigned suggests that a handicap at Cheltenham has been on the minds of connections, with the hope that he can begin to make the grade in better races next season.
He has done little wrong in four starts in novice chases – chasing home smart novice chasers Monalee and Invitation Only in pre-Christmas beginners events at Punchestown and Navan, before stepping up to Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over an inadequate 2m1f trip behind Footpad the last twice.
He probably wants further than 2m4f but he should be well suited by what is sure to be a truly-run contest and, despite having a fair bit of weight to carry, he is one of those rare Irish-trained horses running off his Irish mark.
Sire Du Berlais
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Wednesday) and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle (Friday)
The best is yet to be seen of this ex-French-trained son of Poliglote, as a likely bid for the Coral Cup will be just his sixth career start.
Winner of one of his two starts over hurdles in France, he is yet to win for Gordon Elliott but that does not paint a complete picture. He was a very promising third behind stable companion Mick Jazz in a Listed novice hurdle at Punchestown in February of last year and didn't do himself justice when given a lot to do on his first handicap at that venue a couple of months later.
He was not seen again until running at Fairyhouse last month, when he looked to be making ground until making a mistake at a vital stage. He then hit a bit of a flat spot early in the straight, but picked up well after the final flight without having any chance with impressive winner Out Of The Loop.
Despite his relative handicap inexperience, he should come on a good deal for the run and is unlikely to be too far away in whatever handicap he runs in. His British mark is 6lb higher than his Irish one, and you'd would think that the weight of 11st 1lb in the Coral Cup might prove to be more attractive.
Sort It Out
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Thursday)
He has been lightly raced since and went chasing in the early part of the season with results that went rapidly downhill if anything, but there was tons of encouragement to be gleaned from his return to hurdles in the qualifier for this event at Punchestown last month.
Held up at the back of the pack, he was making little or no headway before the straight but, between the final two flights, he began to pick up and stayed on especially strongly from the final hurdle to the line.
A mark of 141 is 4lb higher than his Irish mark but he has a nice weight and clearly stays well. He could be a very interesting runner indeed.
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Wednesday) and Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Thursday)
Many Irish punters will head to Cheltenham with this horse as their idea of a handicap banker, and you will not find any disagreement in this quarter.
This horse has shown his liking for Cheltenham in the last couple of years – finishing fourth in the Martin Pipe two years ago before landing some nice wagers in the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase over this trip last year.
The Brown Advisory on Thursday will be his target and everything he has done this season seems to be very much with this in mind.
On ground much softer than ideal, he ran better than his finishing position in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November and stepped up on that when a staying-on third over an inadequate 2m1f at Leopardstown last month.
This race looks tailor made for him and, off a mark just 2lb higher than his Irish rating, he looks likely to take some beating.
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Wednesday), Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Friday) and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle (Friday)
Deal D'Estruval boasts three entries at the Festival but his only realistic chance of getting in is in the Martin Pipe on Friday, and he would be more than interesting if he runs.
His maiden hurdle win at Tramore in January is nothing special, but he was thrown in at the deep end in the ultra competitive Coral Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown the following month.
Patiently ridden by Katie Walsh, he was brought there with every chance between the last two flights but ultimately had little chance with impressive winner Off You Go.
His British mark of 136 is 3lb higher than his Irish mark, which should help him get into the Martin Pipe based on last year's field and, if he does get in, he should have an outstanding chance.
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com